Author Notes: This is a quick one-shot based on a prompt from Arinye on Live Journal. This story takes place in season 2 of Stargate and Season 3 of Avatar (after Zuko has joined the GAang). Also, it's unbeta'ed. ;)
Prequel: To Live In The Hearts We Leave Behind is now up!
Zuko woke to the chirping of little high pitched birds. A chirping sound, high and annoying, but in an unnaturally constant rhythm.
BeeBeep… BeeBeep… BeeBeep…
His eyes cracked open to slits and he registered a gray sort of smoothed rock above him. His bed was soft and different from the air nomad mats which were filled with coarse pieces of straw that usually poked into his back and itched in the middle of the night.
What… These weren't his blankets. Where…?
He raised his hand to brush a lock of hair out of his good eye, and froze. Some kind of tube had been affixed to the back of his hand, hanging past his wrist. Instinctively, he grabbed the thing and pulled it away. A needle slid out where it had been placed under his skin.
Zuko jerked back, tumbling off the bed. He tried to stand, but staggered and retched at the feeling of sudden vertigo. He could only clutch at the hard metal frame and feel the entire world tilt and spin — a wash of pallid gray ceiling and strange blue fabric hung up as if for walls.
But now he was getting angry and more than a little frightened. The fire inside bloomed up with savage force and left soot marks where he gripped the bed-rail. His inner fire burned away the strange clinging heaviness in his mind. Slowly the tilt and spin of the world steadied once more and drew back into focus.
He caught sight of a familiar shade of green through a gap in the blue fabric. Zuko tried standing again and found his legs much steadier this time. He pushed away the thick blue fabric separating the two beds. And there, lying peacefully as if asleep, was Toph.
Above her head, was the source the beeping.
Zuko's still slightly unfocused gaze settled on the thing. He had no words in his vocabulary for it; nothing to compare against in his sixteen years of world-travel, through the height of Fire Nation war-technology, barren ice of the poles, and to the dry peasant farmlands of the Earth Kingdom. The closest thing he could think of was that it was a magical moving line on a never ending flat scroll, but in characters he had never seen before.
After all, there weren't heart monitors in his own world.
He tore his gaze away from the machine and back to the girl. She also had a tube stuck into her wrist. He wrenched it away at once, as well as some strange white pads that were attached to her neck and arms.
Overhead, the magical flat scroll of spikes and dips plunged into a thin green line and started to squeal. Zuko wanted to blast it, but he only told it to shut up (it ignored him) and bent to shake the little earthbender's shoulder.
"Toph… Toph, wake up. Toph!"
There was no answer aside from a slight wince and a groan. Her eyes stayed shut.
Suddenly, perhaps called by the squealing monitor, one of the fabric walls was thrust aside and Zuko found himself staring at a woman.
She was short, with light brown hair cropped like a man's. Her expression went from surprised to alarmed in an instant and she reached out towards the girl with something metallic in her hands.
Zuko reacted instinctively, throwing up a hand and a wave of flames. There was little force behind the attack — it was meant to surprise more than hurt anyway. The woman cried out and fell back, and the blue curtains around them caught the flame. Zuko turned, scooping Toph into his arms and ran towards the door.
He looked back once to see the woman – she was a little singed but mostly unburned — slap a round button near the wall.
Colonel O'Neill was trying to teach Teal'c the finer points of desk football. He had folded a spare sheet of paper over and over again into a thick triangle, and was trying to signal the Jaffa through a series of annoyed looks and covert gestures to link his thumbs together for the goal post.
Teal'c simply raised an eyebrow at him.
Overhead, Major Carter was droning on about their last mission to PX-Something-Something. O'Neill was doing his best to ignore it, but snatches of conversation filtered into his brain anyway.
"—gated into what could only be described as a war-zone, General," Carter was saying. "Nothing on the MALP indicated any nearby settlements, much less what we walked into."
"The fighting must have erupted right before we gated in," Daniel added, adjusting the rim of his glasses.
General Hammond nodded and glanced down at the thick report. "Weapons?"
Carter's brow creased. "The world seemed to be pre-industrial age. There were catapults and fire, but no flame throwers I could see."
"It was chaotic," added Daniel. "I swear I saw a zeppelin at one point. The gate seemed to be in mid-ground between two opposing armies. There wasn't much we could do but duck for cover. Jack called for a retreat, and Teal'c spotted the kids."
The Jaffa at that very moment had just snatched Colonel O'Neill's flying 'football' out of the air. He turned calmly to General Hammond. "There had been many explosions nearby. Both children seemed to be unconscious."
"What's their current status?"
Carter glanced at Daniel before she spoke next. "We left them with Doctor Frasier. I don't suspect Goa'uld involvement. This looked like a local skirmish, but perhaps something that has gone on for some time. The boy," and her hand raised the left side of her face, "has a large scar. Possibly an old burn. The little girl wasn't even wearing shoes. It's possible they were trying to escape the fighting and got caught up."
Everyone jerked up in surprise as the alarms started blaring. O'Neill was first out of his seat — perhaps in sheer relief for having the debriefing interrupted.
The control room was just a few short steps away, and was already a buzz of activity. Major Davis, manning an impressive panel of blinking lights and buttons, turned as SG1 and Hammond walked in. "We have a security alarm from the Infirmary, sir! The two patients are missing."
"Sir!" Carter turned to Hammond. "They are just children. They could be—"
She was interrupted from a cry from a nearby airman who was monitoring the security cameras. "Found them! Level fifteen, Corridor A."
At once he found his little screen the object of all the officer's attention. They crowded around him, watching the black-and-white security image. Sure enough the scarred boy with the girl cradled in his arms, ran into the frame. Three uniformed guards stood facing the camera, weapons pointing at the children. The security cameras didn't have an audio feed, but everyone could see the lead Captain's mouth working, telling the boy to stand down.
The boy was facing away from the camera, and the image was grainy; fuzzy and hard to decipher all the details. The boy had struck out with his free arm, as if punching sharply into the air. A bolt of what could only be described as fire erupted; bright and hot, and blinding the camera for a few precious seconds. When the image came back into focus, the guards were struggling to stand up—one was slapping his own arm to put out the flames.
And the kids were gone.
"I think we just found the fire throwers," O'Neill commented.
With Toph clutched hard in his arms, Zuko ran down one shapeless corridor after another, his mind awhirl with things that should not be possible. Somehow he and Toph had ended up in the Earth Kingdom prison. The guards strange green uniforms told him that much. He could only feel the warmth of Agni's light as if from very, very far away.
The square torches affixed to the walls every few feet were strange, too. They contained no flame, and no warmth. Only light of different colors; from white that should have been searing to touch when he put his hand over it, to a cool red which now beeped and blared.
He heard more shouts behind him, more guards calling for reinforcements. There was a door straight ahead and Zuko kicked it savagely, once, twice to get it to open. Then he ducked inside and closed it behind him.
Toph was beginning to stir; mumbling, wincing against his chest. He set her carefully down in the darkened corner and lit a kindle of flame in his own palm for light. She couldn't see him, of course, but she was blinking all the same; her head rolling back and forth as she sought to find her way out of the fog of sedation.
"Easy… easy," Zuko said, and her tiny hand wrapped around his wrist with bruising power. He tried not to grimace. "I think they gave us sleeping drought."
Toph's other hand splayed flat against the ground. "Where…?" she croaked.
"I think we're in an Earth Kingdom prison. I don't know where Aang and the others are."
More shouts echoed in, all centered from the other side of the door. It seemed like the guards knew they were inside, but were hesitant to come in and get them. Zuko glanced over and shot a thin sheet of flame in the small gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. He wanted to give Toph as much time as possible to wake up.
But she was already struggling to her feet; working past the sedation by force just as he had done. She shook her head, took a few short breaths and when she spoke again her voice was clear and close to normal. "We're in a mountain," she said, letting go of his wrist and placing both palms to the wall. "We're really, really deep… wow."
"There's a lot of guys coming this way." Although she didn't seem frightened. She grinned. "You must have made really them mad."
"I set fire to a few things," he said with a shrug. "How are you feeling?"
She straightened up in answer, and before he could speak again she punched out with two strong fists. The door exploded outward from its hinges, knocking down at least six men in its wake. "I'm fine. C'mon!" Toph yelled, running forward — and literally over the fallen, groaning men. Zuko hastened after her.
The next few minutes were pure chaos.
The whole mountainside seemed to be a hive for the strange, green uniformed prison guards. There seemed to be no benders among them, yet they had strange and exotic weapons which sprayed bits of metal and liked to scream into little black boxes at one another.
They were no match for the Fire Prince and the World's Greatest Earthbender.
Toph was plainly in her element — collapsing corridors filled with the odd pale stone these people used to build with in their wake so that they couldn't be followed, and sending metal doors flying out as shields against the metal-spitting weapons. Toph was almost having fun, grinning like a maniac and an earthbending artist all at the same time as she created entrapping fissures, and sunk three men at a time in unstable quicksand where no quicksand should be.
Zuko pressed forward with the same determined focus to escape as he did with every other goal in his life — meaning he shot his fire with quick, aggressive furiously. More than one platoon of men had to fall back to avoid a whirlwind of fire which preceded the two kids as they ran down the halls.
But the guards kept coming. And as fast and skilled as the two benders were, they couldn't dodge everything.
The blast came from the right — a shot from a zat gun, although it was impossible for Toph or Zuko to know that.
Zuko caught it from the side of his bad eye, and thought it was a fire blast. He turned, intending to bat it away with a move he had learned from the Dancing Dragon, and he mostly succeeded.
But when the remainder of the white and blue blast touched his skin it felt like his very nerves were alight with fire. He fell down, boneless, screaming through grit teeth and seizing muscles.
"Sparky!" Toph turned and threw her shoulder into the nearest wall. The very metal caved and then split apart like fine tissue paper under her hands. Turning, she threw two concrete walls up on either side to protect them. Toph grabbed Zuko by the collar and bodily dragged him through the hole.
The metal sealed up after her.
General Hammond was in a rage. "How the HELL can two children be tearing apart my base like this?"
There was a beat of silence before Jack O'Neill spoke up, predictably. "Looks like magic Kung-Fu, sir."
Carter favored him with a glare. "Clearly, it's a technology we haven't encountered. They may have some sort of… nano implants we haven't seen before. Sir, using lethal force isn't going to do any good."
"These are hostiles, Major!" The phone rang and Hammond picked it up. He listened for a moment before putting it down. "The boy's been hit with a zat blast, but now they're in the walls and vents. Subsection eight."
"Sir," said Carter. "That will lead them right to the gateroom."
Zuko regained control of his arms and legs after about a minute. It was a very, very long minute from Toph's point of view.
He sat up, panting and said simply, "Well that hurt. A lot."
Toph's hand still pressed against the nearby wall, her brow furrowed. She didn't like what she was seeing. "They're all ganging up out there. Stupid sheep-hens. There's too many to fight at once."
"Is there another way out?"
She shook her head. "It's a long, long way up to the top… but there's a sort of shielded place." Her fingers curled slightly as she sought to see. "It's big and not too far from here. Maybe we can find something we need."
Zuko curled his fist and then opened it again, testing his reflexes. He nodded. "Let's go."
The room was like a large cavern. Zuko craned his head up, but saw no sun or sky; just more empty rock for a ceiling. It seemed impossible that they were as far down as Toph said they were, and for this kind of opening to exist, but he trusted her senses.
It was empty, and he gestured quietly for her to follow (even as he remembered, belatedly, she wouldn't see it) as he made his way out of Toph's hole in the wall. They crept to the middle of the cavern. Zuko glanced at strange machines and figurines twisted in all sort of unrecognizable shapes. Only the Fire Nation could work metal like this.
But all of the guards they encountered had been gowned in molted green, and their eyes were too round, their faces too Earth Nationy. He hadn't seen a single earthbender among them. Or a firebender, for that matter.
"Something's not right," Zuko said, pausing in the middle of the room to look around. In the back, displayed with a prominent ramp was a large stone ring with unfamiliar characters engraved on it. "Where are the other prisoners? What is this thing?" He gestured to the stone ring.
Toph shrugged. But before she could speak the room was suddenly lit with the light of ten Agni's — the strange square cold torches had all flooded to life. Zuko was blinded, throwing his hand against the bright glare.
Toph had no such problem. She calmly backed up to the nearest wall: instantly all the metal panels and rivets came to life, wrapping around her like a metal cocoon. She lurched forward, the metal grinding and squealing around her as two doors on either side of the room slid open and even more green guards came out, all of their strange weapons aimed.
Zuko crouched, one palm pointed to each group of guards. Toph sunk down, ready to bash some heads and fight free…
… Just as the kids were about to strike, and make their bid for their last chance at freedom, a loud voice broke in from the side.
"HEY! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
Later on, Daniel wouldn't be sure if it was the loud, indignant tone of Jack's voice that broke the tension in the room, or if it was the way his arms were flailing as he walked right between the military men and the two destructive kids. "What do you think you're doing?" Jack yelled again, this time pitching his voice directly at the boy — or The Flamethrower, as he had been nicknamed. "We saved your lives, and you repay us by practically destroying our base?"
The Flamethrower's face scrunched up, as if he had tasted something unpalatable, and he glanced at the little Strong girl. She didn't look back, but with one easy movement the metal helmet covering her entire face and head slid off and hit the floor with a clang.
It seemed to be the answer that The Flamethrower was waiting for. He didn't lower his palms, but he looked at Jack and spoke.
Jack turned to Daniel. "Uh, what?"
"It's almost Mandarin," Daniel mused. "But the root sounds like Buyeo, an ancient form of Korean. See if you can him to speak again."
There wasn't any need. The girl spoke next, clenching her fists. Whatever it was, it sounded like a threat.
The ground below their feet shivered ominously.
O'Neill barely glanced behind him. He sort of shrugged. "Why don't you tell them that we come in peace?"
"Jack, I won't be sure I know exactly what I'm saying…"
"Just do it, Daniel."
The linguist sighed, and turned to the kids. This close he could see that the boy's eyes — his good eye at least — was a striking shade of yellow. The girl didn't seem to be looking at him at all, but rather past him. Daniel settled with, "We do not wish to harm you."
The boy snarled and spoke again, slashing with a hand that trailed smoke behind it. His words were fast, and angry, but this time Daniel was sure he caught a few of the key phrases. His specialty wasn't in the Asian languages, but this did seem more like ancient Korean than anything else. "I think he's saying he is not afraid of us, and demanding to know where his friends are."
The boy spoke again just as Daniel finished translating, apparently too impatient to wait. This time the meaning was clear.
"He wants to know which side we're on."
"We're not on anyone's side. Ask them how're they're…" Jack waived his fingers in the air, "doing their thing."
This time the girl spoke, and Daniel felt a headache settle in between their eyes. "There's no literal translation. She's calling it the Devine Power of World and Flame… but that's not quite right."
"Can they show us how they do it?"
But the boy shook his head and spoke again.
"He wants to know if we are on the side of an Avatar, although I don't know what Avatar he's referring to – maybe an idol? Jack, he's using a royal pronoun to refer to himself—"
The Colonel didn't care. "We're on the side where no one gets hurt," he said, meeting the flame-throwing boy's eyes, and letting Daniel do the stumbling translation. "Look, we can help you if you let us."
It was hard for Toph and Zuko to understand what the man was saying — he spoke their language like a bumbling baby. But the intent was clear, and Zuko couldn't help but see the earnestness in the man's eyes… and appreciate the fact that they hadn't been killed yet.
As for Toph, she felt their pulse and their breaths. Whatever they were saying, it was the truth.
"Can we trust them?" Toph asked, although she knew the answer.
Zuko relaxed his posture. Still meeting Jack O'Neill's eyes, he clasped one fist under a vertical palm and slowly bowed. "We don't have much of a choice."